A SWEET RELISH FOR THE HOLIDAY TABLE!

Cranberry & Winter Fruit RelishCRANBERRY AND WINTER FRUIT RELISH

 So stunningly festive with its dazzling colors and so perfectly seasonal, this easy-as-pie side dish is one that complements any meal the way any relish does. It looks gorgeous on the buffet table and always makes a splash when it arrives at a potluck.

The best part is –you don’t have to cook it! Just chop, mix, and serve. The dish was created for two reasons: first, it’s that simple prep that’s so appreciated during the frenzied holiday season when busy households are scurrying to squeeze in work, shopping, cooking, and holiday party schedules. The second is that it stokes a sweet memory.

While the medley of fruits seems like enough to bring sweetness to the palate, they are not sweet enough to overcome the sour statement of fresh cranberries, leaving the dish begging for extra sweetening.

I’ve used sugar to compensate for the mouth-puckering tart cranberries, but during this Vegan Holidays highresseason I’ll also be experimenting with maple syrup, date syrup, and a homemade date puree in place of the sugar. Another thought that seems very appealing is a puree of Hachiya persimmons to replace the sugar. This is one of the delicious recipes in my Vegan for the Holidays cookbook.

Toward the end of the holiday season, while cranberries are still available, I buy several bags and freeze them so I can make cranberry dishes throughout the winter season. They keep quite well in the freezer for up to 1 year.

When the holidays are over and cranberries and persimmons have disappeared from the produce bins, I turn to apples, pears, and tangerines in their place. They work perfectly and provide us with a pleasant variation.

This dish brings on a delicious little touch of nostalgia for me. I remember coming to my grandmother’s house for the Jewish holidays. When it was time to eat, she always brought a fruit-sweetened relish of some sort to the table along with the main course. Hers was much simpler, with fewer ingredients, and it was not necessarily as colorful. But etched in my mind is the sweet memory of that little touch of fruity delight that was so welcome and so appealing.

I hope this dish brings sweet delights to your table as it does mine.

CRANBERRY AND WINTER FRUIT RELISH

 Yield: 5 to 6 servings

2 Fuyu persimmons, dicedCranberry & Winter Fruit Relish

1 Bosc pear, diced

3/4 cup fresh cranberries

8 pitted dates, diced

5 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 to 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

2 to 3 sprigs fresh mint, for garnish

  1. Combine the persimmons, pear, cranberries, dates, sugar, jalapeno, vinegar, and garlic in a medium bowl and toss well to distribute the flavors and colors.
  1. Transfer the relish to a serving bowl and garnish with the mint if desired. Cover and refrigerate if prepared in advance.
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Ask Santa for Some Delicious Panforte for Christmas!

SANTA’S FAVORITE PANFORTE

Panforte giftsPanforte, pronounced pan for tay with an accent on the for, is an outrageously, delicious sweet and spicy fruit and nut confection that’s perfect for sharing any time of year, but it’s especially meaningful during the holiday season. Panforte originated in Italy where it became a Christmas tradition with a surprisingly long history.

Panforte in Italian means strong bread, but it isn’t bread at all–it’s actually an alluring Christmas confection with stunning eye appeal that matches its irresistible cinnamon-spiced Vegan Holidays highressweetness. Because of its seductive ability to bring extreme happiness to anyone who tastes its “nectar,” panforte seemed like a perfect addition to the Christmas chapter of Vegan for the Holidays.

Panforte, sometimes called Siena Cake, originated in the city of Siena, in the Northern Italian region known as Tuscany. Some consider Panforte a cross between fruitcake and confection. This heavenly sweet treat has been a long-standing holiday tradition in Italy that may date back to the 13th century. Originally it was made for Christmas but is now available year round.

TLC FOR SANTA’S FAVORITE PANFORTE

If you decide not to eat the confection right away, wrap it well and store it in the refrigerator. You can easily keep it up to one year in the fridge, if you choose. For best flavor and ease of cutting into serving pieces, it’s best to bring it to room temperature before serving. At room temperature, the confection will keep for several weeks, if well wrapped. In time, though, it will become very dry and difficult to chew, so it’s best to keep it refrigerated until ready to enjoy.

Panforte dusted & unwrappedTo serve the Panforte, cut it into thin wedges or into one-inch cubes. Be sure to use a very firm, heavy-duty knife because you’ll need to apply more than a little elbow grease to cut through the firm texture.

Panforte is so special it makes a Panforte cut in piecesmuch appreciated holiday gift, too. Each recipe makes four delicious panfortes that can be prepared weeks or even months in advance, double-wrapped in plastic film, and stored in the refrigerator.

If ever there was an exceptional homemade gift to give at holiday time, it’s panforte, a confection that has won over anyone who has tasted its ambrosial sweetness. To make the panforte gift-ready, wrap each one in holiday ribbon and tuck a cluster of real or plastic holly into the center.

Santa's Favorite Panforte copySANTA’S FAVORITE PANFORTE

Baked into slabs, dusted with powdered sugar, and cut into bite-sized chunks or thin wedges, these crunchy, chewy nut-and-fruit-filled nuggets make joyful treats for gifting. For convenience, keep the Panforte well wrapped in plastic and refrigerated until you’re ready to box it, wrap it, or ship it across the country. While panforte keeps at room temperature for several weeks, it just might attract ants or other critters that will think they’ve discovered sweet nirvana.

Important!: You’ll need a candy thermometer for preparing the syrup.

Yield: Makes about 20 servings

PanforteSanta's Favorite Panforte copy

2 cups pecans

1 3/4 cups walnuts

1 1/4 cups almonds

1 cup dried apricots (preferably Turkish), diced

1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

2 tablespoons plus 1 12 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

Syrup

1 cup agave nectar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1 cup powdered sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line four 8-inch metal or aluminum foil pie pans, or 7-inch cake pans with enough parchment paper to drape over the sides
  2. TO MAKE THE PANFORTE, spread the pecans, walnuts, and almonds on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast them for 8 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to Panforte gift wrapped 3a large platter to cool and decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
  3. Combine the apricots, flour, sugar, raisins, dates, cranberries, and cinnamon in an extra-large bowl. Add the cooled nuts and toss well to coat all the ingredients. Set aside.
  4. TO MAKE THE SYRUP, combine the agave nectar and organic sugar in a 2-quart saucepan and mix well. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan and place the pan over medium-high heat. Boil until the temperature reaches 230 degrees F., about 5 minutes. (this can happen very quickly.) Do not stir.
  5. Immediately pour the syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and use a heavy-duty wooden spoon to stir and coat the ingredients well. The mixture quickly becomes extremely stiff, and you’ll need to apply muscle power to combine the syrup and fruit-nut mixture thoroughly.
  6. Distribute the mixture equally among the prepared pans, placing one spoonful of the mixture in the pan at a time and packing it down before adding another. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from the pans. Carefully remove the parchment paper from each slab and dust each one heavily with powdered sugar on both sides, using your hands to coat it completely. After dusting, wrap the panforte until ready to serve or gift-wrap.
  7. To serve, use a sharp, heavy-duty knife to cut the panforte into 1-inch pieces or slice into thin wedges. Wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap at room temperature, Santa’s Favorite Panforte will keep for 3 months, or for 1 year in the refrigerator.

Santa Put Candy Canes into My Salad!!!!

CANDY CANE SALAD

It doesn’t take much to inspire me into playing with my food. But there’s something curious about the holiday season –can’t quite put my finger on it– but I’m just plum nuts about this time of year and the brilliant colors I see everywhere–from holiday decorations, wrapping papers and ribbons to the dazzling foods I find at the farmers’ markets.

This season just makes me tingle with joy and urges me to spend extra time in my favorite niche, the kitchen, quietly creating a little of this or that. Sometimes I have an image in my mind about how a dish ought to look, or perhaps I focus on the flavor I’m aiming for.

Candy Cane Salad 2In the case of this cheery salad, the final dish didn’t even come close to what I had pictured. I was aiming for a salad of stripes just like a candy cane but found it absolutely didn’t work in a bowl.

I set that idea aside and will definitely take another stab at it, because it simply won’t let go of me.

In my next attempt, I created a bed of greens and then, aimed for the bright reds and whites of a candy cane. The salad is still a work in progress, but for now, it makes me smile and I can almost hear it singing “Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa . . .” Next time, I just might crush one half of a candy cane and toss it in to get that nice, sweet, minty accent.

You can make the salad a day in advance (don’t toss it), cover it well with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it. Bring it to the table before tossing it so you can show off it’s glistening colors.

Enjoy it with your favorite dressing. Some have a preference for a light oil and vinegar dressing, but my favorite for this salad is a thick, creamy white, savory dressing!

Candy Cane SaladCANDY CANE SALAD

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

1 head romaine, torn into bite size pieces

1/2 head red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size peices

3 leaves kale, torn into bite-size pieces

1 bunch mint, chopped

 

1 bunch green onions, chopped

 

1 small head cauliflower, finely chopped

1 small jicama, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 bunch radishes, sliced

1 large pomegranate, seeded, 1/4 cup reserved for garnish

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, for garnish

  1. In an extra large salad bowl, combine the romaine, red leaf lettuce, kale, and mint. Set aside.
  2. Chop the green onions. Add the green portion to the lettuces and mix well to distribute the ingredients evenly. Spread the lettuces to the edges of the bowl, creating a slight well in the center.
  3. Put the white portion of the green onions into another large bowl.
  4. Add the cauliflower, jicama, radishes, pomegranate, red bell pepper, and pine nuts to the white portion of chopped green onions and mix well.
  5. Spoon this colorful mixture into the center of the lettuces and garnish with the cherry tomatoes around the edges and reserved pomegranate seeds in the center.

A Delicious Edible Wreath!

CHRISTMAS CARROT WREATH

Christmas Carrot Wreath2Something about the holiday season stirs up the creative juices and urges us to put extra energy into meals we prepare to celebrate with family and friends. On the one hand, we must admit we love the praise that comes when someone says, “Wow! That looks great!” It says others recognize  we’ve put a little extra love into the dish because we wanted to bring  something special to the table.

On the other hand, we simply love the process of creativity and thoroughly enjoy puttering in the kitchen to come up with a dish that’s our very own creation. And we don’t mind spending extra time to play with seasonings until our creation zings with flavor! Because I was so inspired by foods of the holiday season, I created my Vegan for the Holidays cookbook. This recipe is one of the tasty treasures.Vegan Holidays highres

Our final effort goes into making our masterpiece look as magnificent and enticing as it tastes–a little garnish of mint sprigs or a fluff of shredded purple cabbage, perhaps a sprinkle of ground nuts–and we’ve relished every moment spent in our favorite comfy niche, the kitchen.

The Christmas Carrot Wreath is one of those creations I envisioned. It definitely took a few tries before it came together, but it was time well spent. I learned lots in the process (we always do, don’t we?).

I’ll be playing more with the garnishing–I know that needs work. And I’ll re-post the new, enhanced photo as the season progresses. For now, enjoy the dish. It’s never failed to receive praise.

You’ll be tempted to sing “Deck the Halls” when this golden wreath comes to the table. Baked in a ring mold, this carrot dish makes a unique accompaniment to any entree. It’s deliciously moist, delicately sweet, and has a texture reminiscent of a light, airy muffin. Prepare it in advance and reheat it briefly by covering it with aluminum foil, and tucking it into a preheated 350-degree F. oven for 10 to 12 minutes.

CHRISTMAS CARROT WREATH

Yield: 6 servings

3/4 pound carrots (about 3 large), peeled and sliced

1/2 cup vanilla or plain soymilk

1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or distilled vinegar

1/3 cup organic canola oil

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 teaspoon baking powderChristmas Carrot Wreath2

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Garnish

1 bunch parsley, cilantro, or mint

1/3 cup diced red bell pepper

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly oil a 4-cup metal ring mold. Set aside.
  2. Put the carrots in a covered 2-quart saucepan with enough water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil, immediately decrease the heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the carrots are fork tender.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the soymilk and vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to thicken slightly. Stir in the oil, lemon juice, and almond extract; set aside.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, drain the carrots thoroughly and transfer them to a bowl. Mash them well with a fork or potato masher. Measure 1 cup of the mashed carrots and set aside. Use the remaining carrots for another recipe.
  5. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and mix well.
  6. Add the mashed carrots and wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spoon the carrot batter into the prepared mold and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Invert the mold onto a serving platter.
  7. To garnish, form a wreath of green herbs around the perimeter of the serving platter, if desired. Sprinkle with the diced red bell pepper and sliced almonds. Cut into portions and serve.

Note:

The ring mold I use is an old-fashioned aluminum jello mold made to look like copper. A Bundt pan or spring-form pan with a tube in the center would also work.  An angel-food cake pan might work, but it’s best to use a shallow metal mold for ease in unmolding the wreath.